Correction: This story incorrectly reported the legal status of bobcats. Bobcats are protected furbearers by law, and hunting or trapping them is subject to Department of Game and Fish regulations.
State Game Commission Chairman Scott Bidegain and his partner finished in sixth place, winning $1,300, in a major coyote-killing contest last month in Nevada.
Bidegain and his partner shot and killed eight coyotes at the two-day World Coyote Calling Championship in Elko, according to contest results. They were the top-finishing New Mexico team.
“It is something, in my opinion, that a game commissioner should not take part in,” says Elisabeth Dicharry of Los Lunas, who along with her husband manages a Facebook page called Stop Coyote Killing Contests in New Mexico. A caution about the page: You may find some images disturbing.
Bidegain, a Tucumcari rancher who was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to the Game Commission, declined to comment. Bidegain also has appeared in coyote-killing episodes of “Carnivore,” a predator-hunting show aired on the Pursuit Channel.
Coyote-killing contests have become increasingly controversial in New Mexico in recent years. Critics say they celebrate senseless killing and promote disrespect for wildlife; supporters say the contests are a means to curb the population of the predator.
A total of 110 two-person teams killed 307 coyotes during the event in Nevada, hosted by Great Basin Predator Callers. The entry fee was $300 per team. The winning team, from California, killed 15 coyotes and won more than $7,000 in contest money.
Coyotes had to be brought in unskinned and whole, according to contest rules, and there were special prizes for large and three-legged coyotes. The rules said teams winning cash prizes were subject to a lie-detector test.
Such events are named calling contests because participants try to lure coyotes to hunting stands by using calls, often generated by electronic devices, that mimic other coyotes or prey.
The World Coyote Calling Championship has been held at least twice in Belen at the Valencia County Fairgrounds.
Bidegain has been a game commissioner since 2011 and the commission’s chairman for the past 10 months. The position is unpaid but influential, given the state’s rich hunting and fishing traditions.
The Game Commission is responsible for protecting game and fish in New Mexico, but coyotes – like prairie dogs, rabbits and bobcats – aren’t legally defined as game, which means the commission doesn’t regulate their hunting.
Bidegain isn’t the only supporter of coyote-killing contests on the Game Commission.
Commissioner Robert Espinoza Sr., a Farmington businessman, is the former executive director of New Mexico Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, which has held annual coyote-killing contests.
In 2009, while with the sportsmen’s group, Espinoza wrote that such contests were a “great way” to control a predator and “have some fun as well as a chance to win some great prizes.”
New Mexico Public Lands Commissioner Ray Powell, a veterinarian, has banned coyote-killing contests on state trust lands, saying the events are about personal profit and animal cruelty and that they disrupt the balance of the ecosystem.
The state House of Representatives last March voted 38-30 to reject a bill that would have made it a misdemeanor to organize or take part in a coyote-killing contest, which was defined as a competition for entertainment or prizes. Most of the opposition came from Republicans.
Under the legislation, it still would have been OK to kill a coyote to protect a person or property, and coyote killing that was organized or permitted by the Game Commission also would have been lawful.
So far, the coyote-killing legislation hasn’t been introduced in the current session of the Legislature.
Coyote killing has become a small industry, with contests in several states, websites, publications and groups dedicated to the pursuit of the animals.
The website Predator Masters, which says it has more than 43,000 registered members, is holding its annual coyote hunt and convention Feb. 6-8 at the New Mexico Fame & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.
Predator Masters – motto: “Hunting the Hunter” – says no prizes will be awarded, but animal and wildlife advocates are planning to protest the event.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.